Monday, October 12, 2009

CHURCH COVENANTS-----GOOD OR BAD?

What follows started out as a comment on Wades blog but grew exponentially and, therefore, had to become a post on my own blog. I'm aware that some of my friends may disagree with me here but real friendships are never based on the necessity of agreement on all things discussed so I'm confident my real friendships WILL remain intact.

To give context___I have struggled for years with the non-sensicle content, in my personal judgment, of the baptist church covenant that has been used in traditional baptist churches for years. So great the struggle that in my last pastorate we laid it aside in favor of one we drew up ourselves. This post addresses only a couple of those covenant statements that I hold to be non-sensicle. [That's a real word..look it up. :)]

Add to all that the fact that in the comment section of Wade's blog that church covenant is being used as a reason to abstain from any use of alcohol__ ever __because it makes drinking at all a sin and you see why I started my comment. But it grew..and grew..and grew..well you understand why it is now a post. [Drunkenness is not at issue here. It IS a sin according to scripture.]

Now remember, no one is saying that abstinence isn't a good decision for many if not most christians generally speaking. But when abstinence becomes a requirement for one to be biblical or holy or a baptist, and anything else is a sin, we've got problems. Please be respectful and civil in any comments you might want to make. Thanks in advance.
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With regards to the church covenant used in baptist life for years, I for one, believe it not to be the best. To codify abstinence in any church covenant creates a standard not found in scripture therefore is a dangerous standard for any church IMHO. Not WRONG to do since a church can codify whatever they wish as a standard for members but DANGEROUS.

[It WOULD also be honest to state such is NOT based on scripture.]

Why dangerous? Because it takes away the opportunity for those believers to compare themselves to the Jesus who drank wine with sinners BUT HAD NO SIN and DID NOT HIDE ANY SIN. [As I read one person say a while back.] I believe anytime you diminish your ability to identify with Jesus you have lost a great personal moment and a truly biblical view.

[If someone says He didn't drink wine it makes the accusation of being a wine bibber meaningless and Jesus generally had done what his accusers said as when He was said to have eaten with sinners. He had. They just thought He shouldn't have. Luke 15]

With this false standard in a church covenant what one winds up with is a group of church people whose lives are pure by their own measurement and gives them a standard that they can use to examine other believers to make sure THEY comply with what that church perceives as God's expectations... but really aren't.

You also wind up with a group that majors on one statement in a church covenant [abstinence] but generally dismisses another. That being a statement in that same covenant that requires daily devotions for the family. [Which is also a non-biblical standard. Good but non-biblical.] Then they hide their own failure by non-emphasis of that particular standard. [Since most church families DO NOT have daily family devotions.]

The consequencial outcome of non-biblical standards is that it measures sin in a way scripture doesn't, it often hides the committing of another sin, [created by that false standard] and it thus creates hypocrisy. As I said...dangerous stuff there.

This is why I believe a church covenant should be a carefully crafted and thought through document using as much as possible biblical standards only. Where other standards are used for whatever reason they should be identified as non-biblical and cultural only. To do so could sometimes be useful. But those standards certainly should not be identified as SINFUL.

By the way...One statement made was that if Jesus were living today He WOULD NOT drink because our culture of lost people would think it sinful for Him to do so. I don't think our theology for life ought to be based on speculation of what Jesus WOULD do as much as on what Jesus DID do as recorded in scripture.

Just my thoughts on a subject we can disagree on and still be saved I know and still be a baptist I hope.

Paul B.

21 comments:

Wade Burleson said...

Amen, and amen.

Well stated.

Most Baptist churches using old covenants tie church discipline to violation of those covenants--and typically ignore both.

We changed our church covenenant to a promise to "abstain from drunkenness" rather than the promise to "abstain from drinking alcoholic beverages" and lovingly discipline (mentor, teach and eventually--if there is no repentance--remove from membership) that person who makes it a practice to get drunk.

I don't know why your argument that covenants should be carefully written to reflect only the explicit teachings of the New Covenant is so hard for some Southern Baptists to see as biblical and Christian.

Blessings,

Wade

Rodney Sprayberry said...

As far as can tell, it was a deacon from the church I pastor that started discussing "church covenants" in the comment stream.

I hope our new covenant is better than the old one (pun intended!)

We want it to be short...

Have you seen how long many of the church covenants can be?

We want it easy to understand...

No archaic lanquage...and those cumbersome run-on sentences...whew!

We want it to be Scriptural AND New Covenant in thelogy and practice.

We want our church members to actually read it, live it and not throw it in a drawer!

Bob Cleveland said...

I think FBC Pelham has a covenant somewhere. Printed on posterboard, and stored in some closet or another.

What we do have is a statement of our beliefs, written up for all to see (like it says we can do in the BF&M). And, also, a statement of what we practice, which includes our statement as the priesthood of every believer.

When somebody joins, they're buying into the whole deal.

Paul Burleson said...

Wade,

Thanks for starting the comments. You are probably saying thanks to me for NOT putting it up as a comment. :)


Rodney,

"We want it to be Scriptural AND New Covenant in thelogy and practice."

Amen and amen and amen.


Bob,

Sounds good to me. Hope you're feeling good friend.

Chris Ryan said...

Personally, I struggle with the idea of church covenants, period. And, with those of you here, I struggle especially where convictions are expressed that are not founded on the Bible. But If I can go that far (only biblical truths should be in a church covenant), then I wonder why we need the covenant at all. No creed but the Bible, and all.

I think that both church covenants and statements of faith (as they are often used today) are used to create a static faith. To discourage searching the scripture beyond the lens of a predetermined viewpoint. Look at how we have treated the BFM: if you disagree you are wrong and we will kick you out. The same has been done in local churches for the sake of preserving the covenant's status. There is so little grace within which one's faith can question and grow in wisdom and understanding. Why not let the covenant be that we will be a Bible-believing community and then duke it out among ourselves when questions arise as to what is Biblical? Unless, of course, we hold ourselves and our opinions in such high regard that deviation from them must be heresy. In which case, I would guess that the issue of pride (a clear biblical sin) would be worth raising.

All that rambling to ask, do church covenants really serve any useful purpose beyond restricting one's liberty of conscience?

Paul Burleson said...

Chris,

My answer to your final question is...I doubt it.

My reponse o your whole comment...I couldn't agree more.

Rodney Sprayberry said...

Good points Chris.

Both confessions of faith and church covenants can become creedal...and they often do

But just saying that we will be a "Bible Believing community and then duke it out among ourselves when questions arise as to what is Biblical" is not alway practical either: This will still produce a "us verses them mentality" when pride is factored in. Not to mention that Jehovah Witnesses and Mormons would say they were "Bible believing folk" as well...

A well crafted confession is a good synopsis of what most people in a given "faith community" believe.

A well crafted church covenant is a good synopsis of how that faith community puts what they believe into practice.

To be fair, writing these things down might contribute to a static faith...but they don't have to.

Disclaimer....

I am winging what I am about to say based on some things I have read in the past but my memory bank may be slightly corrupted....

Confessions and Covenants are not new ideas...in church history there is some evidence of their use...However, writing them down is a relatively modern occurrance

My question is this, When a group acknowleges/agrees as a group that "We believe in...(fill in the blank) or "We endeavor as a church to...(fill in the blank) Is that much different than writing it down?

Some say yes...Others say no....
What say you?

Aussie John said...

Paul,

If we're going to have such a document, I thoroughly agree with you.

Even though I have pastored churches with a covenant, I doubt they are of any value other than to give a few, who cannot handle freedom in Christ, power over those who can. Comments on Wades blog is evidence of that.

Through experience in some instances, I have to believe the motives of those who espouse them are suspect, at best.

If our focus is on serving one another,as servants of Christ,and showing the world we are His disciples by our love for one another, why would we need a document with which we can beat another over the head?.

By the way: nonsensical :)

Chris Ryan said...

Rodney,

Yes, a well written faith statement and church covenant can state what a church believes and how it seeks to express those beliefs. BUT...

What about when those convictions change? A confession can easily be outdated two days after it is written. Just look at Adoniram Judson and Luther Rice: paedobaptists one day and Baptists the next. Or John Smyth: disposessed Anglican to Baptist to Mennonite as he continued to diaglogue with what he thought scripture meant. Confessions are great for historical records (they express what the signers believed at the moment they are signed), but if we aren't going to make them a creed they have absolutely no practical value unless they are revised so constantly it hardly seems worth the effort, faith is so static that there is no growth to require change, or the content is so sparse that nobody (protestant, catholic, or orthodox) would look at it and disagree.

What if the life situation changes? Jesus critiques the Pharisees as hypocrites because they are playing the part of those who went before them: emulating practices that were useful in a bygone era but which are nothing more than shows in their own time. The church I grew up in uses a church covenant that dates back over 125 years. The sitz im leben has changed dramatically over the years, yet they somehow assume that what was good then will obviously be the best way of expressing our faith now. But there were concerns of their time that are not concerns of our time. There are concerns of our time the covenant writers wouldn't even know to address. But that was and is this church's covenant. Static. Again, if the covenant is to be meaningful it must be updated so often that it would leave people's heads spinning or so basic that it provides very little distinct direction.

How is writing it different from saying it? That's pretty easy. A speech event is necessarily an event in time. The word is spoken and then it passes. The written word takes upon itself a much more timeless, static nature. It is written and then nothing can altar that document. You can create a revised edition, or create a new confession, but *that* confession will always be that confession. The transient confession is more faithful to life as we live it, whereas the timeless written documents are useful for historians and (I think) impediments to current practitioners of the faith.

Rodney Sprayberry said...

I agree with most of what you are saying.

Early on in our efforts to create a CBL for this church, there was quite a few discussions on which BFM we would adopt. Our frustration was evident in that we did not feel that either the 1963 2000 BFM communicated who we were as a church.

So we crafted a shorter, simpler statement of faith that can be ammeded/change with time. That was over 2 years ago and if we were doing it now, we would probally write it a little differently.

hmm...something to think about

Paul Burleson said...

Guys,
I'm out at a mall buying my soon to be ten year old granddaughter a birtday gift and letting her pick it out. She and her Grams are breaking the bank. Be back soon to participate .0

Aussie John said...

Paul,

This IS NOT what I meant,"Through experience in some instances, I have to believe the motives of those who espouse them are suspect, at best."

This IS what I meant,"Through experience in some instances, I have to believe the motives of SOME of those who espouse them are suspect, at best.

Paul Burleson said...

I'm up and responding to the great conversation of last night.

I'm not sure I see the wisdom or value of church covenants per se. There could be other ways of establishing what a local fellowhip holds to as a body.

For example, were a local church to commit to the integrity of the scriptures as inspired and infallible as our guide for life where they speak and the Holy Spirit's ability and intention of giving understanding as each member searches those scriptures, the fellowship might then need to once in a while do a research paper [White paper or Position paper?] and settle on an agreed opinion on MAJOR disagreements.

This could be over issues that arise because of the culture or things salvific, or maybe other things as needed. [The tongues controversy for example if it became divisive.] This SEEMS to me to be the spirit of the New Testament on things that needed to be settled.

If all those are decided AT ONE TIME in a church covenant it appears to me to be too much like a church sign out front I saw that said "Mountain Hill Baptist Church." Underneath it said "We're an Independent, Fundamental, Missionary, Premillenial, King James Version, Closed Communion Church.

My sense was it meant..."If you're not this don't bother to come here."

Just a thought.


Aussie John,

I didn't even catch the absoluteness of the former phrase. I'm NOT surprised you did catch it upon re-reading it and that you corrected it. That's the kind of thoughtful person your writing has shown you to be.

Correction noted and appreciated.

Rodney Sprayberry said...

Paul

It seems to me that church covenants and statements (confessions) of faith in most modern manifestations seem to be are more about one group of Christians communicating to other Christians what they are about, for, and against rather than a snapshot (If you are reading this Chris Ryan...I listened)at a point and time revealing what a church is really committed concerning belief and practice!

It seems that those with a church culture background are the ones that are targeted...no one else really cares. Maybe God does not either.

I am reminded of a discussion I had with a friend who grew up marginally catholic, had very little church background, but had been saved in a Billy Graham crusade many years ago.

My family got to know his family because our kids all played basketball toegther. Through those relationships and some home bible studies they started attending our church on Sunday mornings

Mark and I were talking one day when I said to him, you and Becky just need to go ahead and join! I was half joking (we were laughing about several things).

At first I thought his response was also a joke but I quickly saw he was serious. He said, We'd love too how much does it cost?"

His wife told me later that after that evening was over he asked her, "Do you think they would want me if they knew I drink an occassional beer? (But that is a discussion for another day!)

When people ask Mark and Becky about the church they attend, they talk about the relationships they have and the kid friendly programs.
Nothing else matters much.

Along the way they seem to be growing in their faith but is has been mostly through home bible studies...not Sunday activities (They are on the road a great deal with their work) and raquetball session (As Mark beats the stuffing out to me!)

Contrast that with a phone call I got from a "Christian" family looking for a church. they wanted to see our CBL and church covenant. They wanted to know what kind of music we had..what translation I preached from... whether or not I wore a tie..whether or not we had Sunday evening services!

How can we work hard and do so many things and miss so much?

Paul Burleson said...

Rodney,

Very interesting and insightful comment.

Your statement here quoting your friend..."We'd love too how much does it cost?"...may not be a bad idea. Because coming together in relationships does cost us something. Right?

In other words, maybe a church covenant is MORE important for what it could lay our clearly and carefully what is expected in behavior "together" as church members. Even here much grace for differing ideas would need to go into the codifying of such but I maybe see this more important than the trying to identify all we believe. [A codifying of parts of the New Testament.]

Some of my thinking here is triggered because, in relationships, it's hard to grow unless you know something of what you are "buying into" relationally.

Of course this argument could be used for the covenant existing altogether. Lot's of thought is needed on all this for me. Good conversion

Chris Ryan said...

Rodney,

From the sound of things, it seems that one family gets Christ and the other family gets religion.

And I always read. It doesn't matter how long the post gets. I write enough novels that I can't say a word to anyone who uses less than 1,000 words. :)

Security word: thine. As in, in relationship to "you." The key to it all.

Rodney Sprayberry said...

Paul,

my thinking exactly....

When I got married there were expectations (legal and relational) in that covenant committment, I was expected to embrace. Relationships are always "costly"

But, if those expectations become a checklist (ie codified behavior) that my wife I and hold over one another over... they cease to become less "covenant" and more "contract"

On some occassions (such as with unfaithfulness) the contractual obligation (ie divorce) is perfectly legitimate to invoke.

However, the pain/damage that is caused does not come from the broken contract but the broken covenant.

Inversely, if relationship is to be salvaged/rescued it will not happen because of legal strength of the contract but the redemptive power of covenant love

There are very little expectations for membership in most Baptist churches. The stated ones:

Profession of faith, Baptism, request of letter, statement of faith...

The other unspoken requirements usually include attendance and giving...

That is about it...They sound pretty contractual to me.

When my friend Mark thought you have to pay a "membership fee" to get into church...he was simply expressing a undeniable truth (without even knowing it) ...anything worth being part of cost something.

The price tag we have attached to "church membership" looks nothing like what the NT alludes to.

I do not know if church covenants are the answer but something must change.

Rex Ray said...

Paul,
Just noticed your post today. Very interesting. The only church covenant our church has ever had in 60 plus years contains, “to abstain from the sale and use of intoxicating drinks as a beverage.”

It’s like Bob said, “stored in some closet” and lost for many years. Ours wasn’t discovered until the building was remodeled.

Like the people in the Old Testament that changed their way of life when God’s Laws were lost in the temple, some have strayed far from our lost covenant to the point of buying liquor permits.

In fact, when our covenant was found it was sort of ‘smiled at’ and we haven’t had a discussion on the subject. We haven’t even thought about changing it to what Wade’s church did: “a promise to abstain from drunkenness”.

We have: “to abstain from harmful habits and appearances of evil…”

Rodney, I guess I’m the deacon you referred to in your first comment. You said, “We want our church members to actually read it….”

Many people have come and gone and they’ve never read it because nearly three years have gone by and we still haven’t voted on a covenant yet. The reason being because the church constitution and bylaws are still being ‘worked on’ and the covenant is included.

So why did you tell Chris Ryan, “So we crafted a shorter, simpler statement of faith that can be amended/change with time. That was over 2 years ago and if we were doing it now, we would probably write it a little differently. Hmm…something to think about”?

Rex Ray said...

Rodney Sprayberry,
I believe this is the first time I’ve written your name on the internet as my pastor.

I’m upset because since midnight for three hours I could not convince my wife that we were not on an airplane. She phoned 911 and ten minutes later asked the sheriff to take her home.

I realize this has nothing to do with our covenant, church constitution, and bylaws, but I see the handwriting on the wall that I may not be around to see in my opinion the finishing death of our church at the hands of a fundamentalist in doing things his way.

I was told in three years our attendance would be around 300, but our 80’s have dropped to the 50’s and 40’s. But that’s not the whole story as many new people have replaced the ones attending from 20 to 50 years.

For the record, you made the comment on Paul’s blog (12/10/09 4::07 PM): “Early on in our efforts to create a CBL [church constitution and bylaws], for this church, there was quite a few discussions on which BFM we would adopt.”

HUH? Our committee of four turned out to be you and me. After a year we had never discussed which BFM would be adopted as this is a BGCT church and the proposed church constitution had: “We subscribe to the BFM as adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention in 1963”

In December 2008, I wrote you an email saying, “By-laws…14 pages! Hey, we spent a year on 2 pages [church constitution]. Oh-boy-oh boy.”

You replied: “It is a headache is it not? Yet surprisingly enough, I am enjoying working through this with you. It is forcing me to think through details that I would normally overlook.”

My email to you was after I had worked weeks and weeks on bylaws by studying 15 church bylaws and gave you my proposed bylaws.

In return you sent me your proposed bylaws which you had copy-pasted almost word for word your new convention church bylaws you left in Virginia …starting with the pastor being limited to men.

Our proposals were so far apart, the deacons were asked to help. At the first meeting, they accepted the church constitution as we had agreed, but the next meeting where I was absent neither BFM was mentioned.

Your comment: “So we crafted a shorter, simpler statement of faith that can be amended/changed with time.”

Another HUH? You think it’s “shorter, simpler” to replace “1963 BFM” by adding two pages copy-pasted mostly from the 2000 BFM that covered the subjects: Scriptures, God, Father, Son, Holy Spirit, Man, Salvation, Church, and the Second Coming?

Your blog words sound good, but in practice there is a ‘rest of the story.’

Your comment also said, “Our frustration was evident in that we did not feel that either the 1963 2000 BFM communicated who we were as a church.”

I believe your: “Our” and “we” would be more truthful if you said, ‘My’ and ‘I’ since the paper you gave to the church in 2006 states: “I would begin the process of moving them [us] over to the conservative conventions…churches must be in agreement with the BFM 2000.”

Rodney Sprayberry said...

Rex,

I am sorry that you and Belle had such a bad night the other night and I am glad Belle had a better night last night.

It was good to see her out at the pumpkin patch today

You and I will probally never see eye to eye on many things. For that matter you will most likely never be convinced that I am not a "fundamentalist trying to do things my way" and I will most likely always struggle with "insecurity and pride" every time you take me "to task"

However...
Whatever differences you and I have pale in the face of the heartache your family is facing at this point

If it is any consolation, know that this "Fundy" is praying for you and your dear wife.

Rodney

Rex Ray said...

Rodney,
Thanks for the reply and your prayers.

Yesterday, our daughter was in the church pumpkin patch and told me I needed to read the internet on ‘Lewy Bodies’.

I told her I didn’t want to know, but she kept talking until we were both crying.

She said we were at the first of the ‘long goodbye.’ The average life is seven years. Belle will get worse until she needs 24 hour care.

She said our savings would soon be gone and we would have to sell our house and farm and not have any money before ‘outside help’ would take over.

She said some beat the system by getting divorced and when her money is gone…

But nothing our daughter said hurt as much as Belle saying “I want to be part of the family.”